While there is no published evidence of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from touching food or food packaging that came in contact with the virus due to coughing or sneezing from an infected person, the virus causing COVID-19 can survive on surfaces and objects for a certain amount of time. The Harvard School of Public Health has published the following guidelines:
The primary method of transmitting COVID-19 is droplet spread from being close to an infected person (who may have no symptoms), thus social distancing is the most important way to reduce risk to you and others.
Although we do not have concrete evidence regarding specific dietary factors that can reduce risk of acute infections like COVID-19, we do know that eating a healthy diet, being physically active, managing stress, and getting enough sleep are critical to keeping our immune system strong. In the face of current uncertainties.
There is no published evidence, and we are not aware of unpublished evidence that people have developed COVID-19 illness from touching food or food packaging. However, the virus causing COVID-19 can survive on surfaces and objects for a limited amount of time. The available evidence suggests this up to about 3 days on hard surfaces like metal or plastic and about 1 day on soft surfaces like cardboard.
The greatest risk of contracting viruses when shopping is from touching a shopping cart, or basket.
Another high-risk situation is having close contact with other shoppers or store staff. Maintain a distance of 6 feet as much as possible, such as when you’re waiting in the checkout line.
Offer to bag your own groceries, to minimize touching by other individuals. Note that while self-checkout lanes may reduce your contact with people, be mindful that you will be interacting with potential secondary infection points such as the barcode scanner, touchscreen, and conveyor belt.
Handwashing remains a critical step in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and should be done often. After returning home and before preparing or eating food, wash your hands thoroughly with clean water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds.
Because of the limited ability of coronavirus to survive on surfaces, the easiest way to minimize risk of infection from foods purchased at a store or delivered to your home is just let it sit in an out-of-the way place for three days. Of course, this won’t work for foods that need immediate refrigeration or freezing. Note that COVID-19 is an “enveloped virus,” meaning that it is covered in an oily membrane. Fortunately, plain soap is very effective at disrupting the oil on surfaces, and water is effective at removing and rinsing away the virus.
For fresh produce that will not be cooked before eating, wash thoroughly under running water. If desired, use a vegetable scrub brush and scrub the surface vigorously with a small amount of soap and water (be gentle with softer produce). This method is effective at removing pathogens on the surface. Wash the scrub brush with additional soap and water after each use. Other popular rinses such as vinegar are not known to be effective at killing viruses.
For other perishables that need to be immediately frozen or refrigerated (especially frequently touched items like milk containers) it may also be a reasonable precaution to wash the container surface with a small amount of soap and water. Be sure to wash your hands again after doing so.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is not likely to be transmitted through food itself. However, food service establishments and delivery services should be following local health departments’ guidelines on food safety and regular screening of employees for COVID-19 symptoms.
Because COVID-19 can remain on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours, discarding cardboard food packaging is suggested. Once receiving the meal, transfer the meal from its packaging onto a plate, discard the packaging, and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Request that supermarket food deliveries be left on your doorstep and follow general food safety guidelines for handling food.
It is important to understand that there are no nationwide shortages of food in the U.S. However, during this time canned and frozen items may be harder to access due to consumer stockpiling, causing temporary shortages. If your store has run out of frozen items like vegetables, fruits, chicken, or fish, you can purchase fresh versions and freeze them. Breads and muffins, whether packaged or homemade, also freeze well for several months.
Wash and chop vegetables, blanch in boiling water for a minute, then immediately place under cold running water to deactivate enzymes that lead to spoilage. Place in an airtight plastic freezer bag, and label with the date. Vegetables with a high water content like lettuces, tomatoes, and cucumbers do not freeze well, but many others like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, carrots, and Brussels sprouts freeze well.
Some fruits last for months refrigerated in the produce drawer, such as apples. More perishable fruits like bananas, all berries, cantaloupe, and pineapple freeze well. Chop into bite-sized pieces and place in a freezer bag.
Place fresh poultry or fish in an airtight plastic freezer bag, label with current date, and freeze.
Use spare time at home to experiment with new recipes! Check out the Nutrition Source library of recipes.
Amidst the many stressors in a day (whether new or amplified), be sure to take time for rest and regular, conscious breathing. It doesn’t have to be long—even a few breaths can help. If you’d like some guidance, try this short mindful breathing exercise with Dr. Lilian Cheung.
Food and Drug Administration: Frequently asked questions about COVID-19.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition articles, tips, video and activities for individuals and families managing the challenging conditions of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Harvard Chan School: Weekly interactive online forums providing advice and discussion about challenges the public is facing, including caring for emotional well-being.
FDA: Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)